(Last Updated On: 03/06/2017)

Labor law makes clear to the employer when and how he has to prepare a work certificate. Every employee has the right to receive an assessment of his/her achievements from his/her employer. If the work certificate does not comply with the legal requirements, you can even make a complaint or change it.

1. Facts about the work certificate
2. Simple and qualified work certificate
3. Prohibited information in the certificate language
4. Obligation of the employer
5. Understand the judgment
6. Formal requirements for the work certificate
7. Right to correction
8. Deadlines and limitation
9. Notify the employer immediately

Facts about the work certificate
Definition: A work certificate is the assessment of the work performance and, at the same time, evidence that there has been an employment relationship.

Agreement: The legislator commits the employer to the issuance of a work certificate and establishes conditions for it. It must represent the work of the employee in a manner which is justified and true. In addition, it must be tidy and professional, i.e. error-free.
Limitation period: Three years after the end of the employment relationship, a limitation period comes into force. From this date, the employee no longer has a claim for a work certificate. This case, however, occurs only infrequently, since normally a work certificate is issued directly after the employment relationship.

Simple and qualified work certificate
Both in the case of a work certificate and an internship certificate, there are two variants according to the civil code and the trade regulation.
a. A simple work certificate, which corresponds to an activity proof.
b. A qualified work certificate, in which the employer also assesses benefits and social skills.

As a rule, employers automatically issue the qualified work certificate. The employer is, however, obligated, if he has only issued a simple work certificate. This means that if the employee wants to have a qualified work certificate, it is – in legal terms – a matter for him to address the employer.

As a general rule, handing over the work certificate is carried out on the last working day of the employee, or alternatively it is sent by post. However, the employer is not obliged to send the work certificate by post, unless the travel costs are unreasonable for the recipient.

Prohibited Information
Certain information in the testimony is prohibited in a discrete form. The General Equal Opportunities Act prohibits employers from disclosing certain information in a work certificate. The Act is designed to prevent discrimination against workers who could be discriminated against. Thus, the work certificate must not give any indication of belonging to a particular religion, party, or ethnic group.

The affiliation of a employee to a works council is, as a rule, not to be mentioned in the certificate. This applies in any case if the employee does not want it. This can only be done if the employee has been working exclusively for the council for a long time before leaving the company and the employer is therefore no longer in a position to assess his performance and leadership in the area of his/her responsibilities.

Obligation of the employer
In addition to the legal basis, the so-called “well-being obligation” exists for the work certificate. This means that the employer is not allowed to enter information – including non-encoded – into the work certificate, which could adversely affect the employee in the future job search.

Understand the judgment
There are no classic school grades from one to six in the work certificate. Nevertheless, there is an assessment similar to this well-known system of notes. However, it is somewhat muted here. The translation is as follows:
Expression in the testimony statement
“Always to our fullest/highest satisfaction” very good
“Always to the full satisfaction” good
“Always to the satisfaction” satisfying
“Always tried” deficient to inadequate

Formal requirements for the work certificate
The work certificate must be issued in text form in accordance with civil code. In addition, the employer is obligated to sign the manual by hand. Therefore, the legislator includes digital forms of the testimony (PDF file or e-mail) as well as a fax. The employee is, however, free to scan the certificate for the next online application.

It is customary that the work certificate is issued on the company’s letter paper. This enhances the document character and complies with the requirements for the external form, which require cleanliness and order.

This rule does not include kinks, which can occur, for example, when the work certificate is sent. A woman sued her employer because her work certificate was bent twice so that it could be sent in a smaller envelope. The applicant lost that case. The Federal Labor Court ruled in 1999 that the company could not be prosecuted for this. However, no one wants to see kinks on a copy of a work certificate.

Right to correction
A faulty work certificate presents the former employee in a bad light, because other personnel could evaluate the mistakes as a kind of secret code or a hint. The employee is therefore entitled to his/her certificate being flawless. This applies both to content errors, such as the indication of false personal data and incorrect information about the activities, as well as to spelling mistakes. You can ask your (former) employer to correct the work certificate if mistakes occur in the certificate.

However, according to one judgment made by the Labor Court, the correction is not enforceable if there is only an insignificant error. The decision was based on a work certificate in which the phrase “integrity behavior” was contrary to “integrive behavior.” According to the above mentioned judgment, the defendant’s wording was a single defect which did not have any adverse effect on the overall assessment. Therefore, the plaintiff lost the case.

Deadlines and limitation
The law states that the right to a work certificate already exists when the employment relationship ends. However, this claim expires after three years, according to the regular period of limitation.

In some cases, the limitation period may be earlier, for example if the employer cannot recall the work. This rule can be especially important for a practical certificate.

Notify the employer immediately
Work certificates are a reason for many judicial disputes, so you should carefully read the content inside the certificate and make the employer aware of possible mistakes as soon as possible and precisely describe the error so that no misunderstandings arise.